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Pfaus v. Feder

Decided: July 1, 1965.


Herbert, J.s.c.


[88 NJSuper Page 469] The plaintiff is applying for an interlocutory injunction. The defendants resist that application and also move to dismiss the complaint. The defendant Sarah Feder is the owner of a four-family house located at 14 Nelson Place, Maplewood. She lives in one of the apartments and has had tenants in the other three. Leon Feder is her husband and was joined because of the mistaken impression he owned an interest in the house. He is not a co-owner with his wife, and having been confined to the veterans' hospital at Lyons, New Jersey as a patient since October 1963 does not reside at 14 Nelson Place. He has even released all rights of curtesy in the premises.

It having been established that Leon Feder is not an owner and that he did not participate in the events which were the immediate cause of suit, his motion for a dismissal will be granted.

The plaintiff holds office under N.J.S.A. 18:25-8, subsec. d. Under subsection h of section 8 he is empowered to "[c]onduct investigations, receive complaints and conduct hearings * * *," all for the purpose of enforcing the laws against discrimination. The statute provides in some detail for the administrative process which may result in an order to a respondent to cease and desist from unlawful discrimination or may result in a finding that there have been no unlawful discriminations. N.J.S.A. 18:25-19 provides "Observance of an order of the director issued pursuant to the provisions of this act may be enforced by a civil action brought by the director in the Superior Court to obtain such relief as may be necessary to effectuate the terms of said order." Except for this section the statute is silent about the director's power, or lack of it, to sue in any court.

The present case is not brought to effectuate the terms of any official order of the plaintiff. He has not yet concluded the administrative process regarding the discrimination complaint which is pending against Sarah Feder, and apparently will not reach for some time the point at which he can decide whether she did or did not violate the statute. The objective of the plaintiff in this suit is to keep available for Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Wood, until the administrative proceedings have been brought to a conclusion, an apartment in Mrs. Feder's building. Mr. and Mrs. Wood are not parties here, but they filed with the Attorney General under the statute (N.J.S.A. 18:25-13) the complaint charging Leon and Sarah Feder with unlawful discrimination.

Mrs. Feder takes the position that she refused to rent an apartment to Mr. and Mrs. Wood for valid business reasons and not because Mr. Wood is a negro. She has filed affidavits and exhibits in support of this position. In the Newark Sunday News of May 2, 1965 she advertised 14 Nelson Place for

sale at a price of $44,000. In the same issue of the newspaper she advertised two four-room apartments in the building for rent. She says that she had received termination notices from two of her three tenants and had decided that she would either sell the property or rent the apartments, whichever course might seem best to her.

Mr. and Mrs. Wood responded to the rental advertisement and were shown an apartment by Adolph Lippe, a friend of Mrs. Feder. After making their inspection, they were taken by Mr. Lippe to Mrs. Feder. She says she told them she was going to sell the premises and that a new owner would want to remodel and perhaps evict all tenants. She says she realized that Mr. and Mrs. Wood did not want a temporary tenancy subject to an imminent sale; that she told them no apartment was available for occupancy until June 1, 1965; that she would be selling and thought it best that she should not rent pending the sale.

As to her attempts to sell the property, Mrs. Feder says that she had good response to her advertising from prospective buyers. About May 9 she heard from Robert M. Cook, a salesman employed by John M. Litaway, a real estate broker. This inquiry from Mr. Cook led to his showing the property to Mr. and Mrs. David J. Stevens of Newark with the result that they signed a contract dated May 27, 1965 to purchase the property from Mrs. Feder at a price of $36,500, with a down payment of $1,000. A photocopy of the contract is an exhibit attached to defendant's affidavits. There is a provision for the payment of a commission to John M. Litaway, the broker, and there are provisions making the closing of title conditional upon procurement of a mortgage and upon dismissal of this suit.

Affidavits presented by the plaintiff challenge Mrs. Feder's claim that she decided to sell and not to rent. She says that decision was announced to Mr. and Mrs. Wood. Apparently she saw them on May 2, 1965. On May 6, 1965 a field representative of The Division on Civil Rights visited 14 Nelson Place. Her affidavit says that both apartments were shown

to her by "Mr. Feder," who told her they were for rent. [In fact the man was Mr. Lippe, Mr. Feder being confined to the hospital at Lyons.] She then identified herself and asked why the Woods had not been accepted as tenants. In reply the man she thought was Mr. Feder said, among other ...

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